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Features

The Most Surprising Musical Friendships

From fleeting, backstage hangs to longtime creative partnerships, the best musical friendships come in all forms.

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Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Musicians: they’re just like us. They have friendships, fallouts, romances, and make small talk at parties. When it comes to the music industry, it’s always been quite small, which makes it inevitable for the world’s biggest acts to meet, become friends, and – if we’re lucky – collaborate. Below are just some of these surprising musical friendships – from fleeting, backstage hangs to longtime creative partnerships.

Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift

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Photo: Kevin Mazur/BMA2015/WireImage

Don’t let Sheeran’s look of excited bewilderment fool you, the musical friendship between Ed and Taylor Swift is well documented – from the Folklore star donning an “I <3 Ed” shirt at Sheeran’s 2013 Madison Square Garden show, to the British singer-songwriter supporting Swift on her 2013 tour, to their hilarious banter on social media. Swift perhaps put it best when she told Rolling Stone that Sheeran “is the James Taylor to my Carole King and I can’t imagine a time when he wouldn’t be.”

Lil Wayne and Travis Barker

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Photo: Frazer Harrison/BET/Getty Images for BET

When he’s not touring with pop-punk stalwarts blink-182, Travis Barker is rap’s favorite drummer, and Weezy is no exception. Along with sharing their passion for ink, the two are longtime friends and collaborators since 2005. The pair reunited almost 15 years later to launch Barker’s imprint, DTA Records, with the single “Gimme Brain” featuring Rick Ross.

Marc Bolan and Elton John

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Photo: Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns

While T. Rex’s Marc Bolan only relaxed in Elton John’s grand piano on special occasions, the two artists were great pals in the British rock scene. Elton joined T. Rex on their 1971 Top Of The Pops appearance and penned the song “I’m Going To Be A Teenage Idol” about the glam rocker in 1973. In between that, they were featured in the Ringo Starr-directed concert film, Born To Boogie (pictured here).

Teddy Pendergrass, Meat Loaf, and Debbie Harry

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Photo: Richard E. Aaron/WireImage

Did Meat Loaf tell Debbie Harry and Teddy Pendergrass what he wouldn’t do for love? These three disparate artists were brought together through the magic of film – 1980’s Roadie, to be exact. The comedy, which was Meat Loaf’s first starring role, featured a trove of cameos – including one by Harry’s band, Blondie. Pendergrass, meanwhile, contributed the Top 5 R&B hit, “Can’t We Try” to the film’s fantastic soundtrack.

Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley

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Photo: Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley were both pioneering artists who transformed the blues into rock’n’roll in the 50s. They were also two of the greatest guitar players – ever. In 1964, the axe-masters teamed up for Two Great Guitars, just one of the highlights of their musical friendships.

Ludacris, Prince, and Dave Chapelle

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Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

While any fan of The Chapelle Show knows that Dave and Prince go way back (and that they both enjoy a mean game of basketball), one really wonders what Ludacris and Prince were discussing at this 2007 NBA All-Star game. In an interview following Prince’s death, however, Ludacris talked about kicking it with the iconic artist: “The thing that a lot of people don’t know was how great his sense of humor was.” Based on Prince’s coy smile in this photo, it looks like the admiration was mutual.

Katy Perry and Rihanna

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Photo: Lester Cohen/WireImage

For much of the 2010s, Katy Perry and Rihanna not only dominated the pop charts, but were also the best of friends – vacationing together, inseparable at award shows, and attending each other’s concerts. Rihanna even threw Perry a bachelorette party ahead of her marriage to comedian Russell Brand. While they’ve each embarked on their own pop paths, is it too late for a collab?

Michael Jackson and Steven Tyler

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Photo: Bobby Bank/WireImage

While schmoozing at Studio 54, Michael Jackson and Steven Tyler could have come up with the ultimate dance anthem: “Moon Walk This Way.” Though that was clearly a missed opportunity, this photo is a prime example of the magic of the fabled NYC club: it could bring together two people who had very little in common – other than fame. Thus, Michael (who was then a squeaky-clean member of the Jackson 5) was hanging out with the frontman of Aerosmith (in all of his rock’n’roll debauchery), and they’re flanked by Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell and Cherrie Currie of the Runaways, to boot.

John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, Micky Dolenz, and Anne Murray

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Photo: Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

During John Lennon’s 18-month “Lost Weekend” period, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he reconnected with his good friend, collaborator, and soon-to-be roommate, Harry Nilsson. Lennon quickly became an honorary member of “The Hollywood Vampires” – a celebrity drinking club founded by Alice Cooper. Members like Ringo Starr, and The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz frequented Hollywood hot spots, including the Rainbow Room and The Troubadour. On this particular night, the Vampires caught a set from Canadian pop singer Anne Murray, who was likely quite shocked, when she saw her celebrity-filled audience.

John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, and Joe Cocker

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Photo: Ebet Roberts/Getty Images

While blues legend John Lee Hooker made no secret about his love for “Whiskey & Wimmen,” he also loved collaborating with other artists. Here he is, doing a bit of both – with fellow blues pioneer Willie Dixon and British blues-rocker, Joe Cocker (who grew up idolizing both artists).

Freddie Mercury and Barbara Valentin

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Photo: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

Freddie Mercury had some of the best times in his life in Munich – throwing decadent parties, recording his solo debut, Mr. Bad Guy, and meeting a trove of new friends, including Austrian actress Barbara Valentin. When it came time to shoot the video for Queen’s “It’s a Hard Life,” Freddie invited Valentin to be a part of the cast – as seen in this on-set polaroid.

Boy George and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe

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Photo: Lindsay Brice/Getty Images

“Do you really want to hurt me, Michael?”
“Everybody hurts, sometimes, George.”

Pete Townshend and Toots Hibbert

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Photo: Steve Morley/Redferns

In the late 60s, Jamaican band Toots and the Maytals were instrumental in popularizing reggae and ska music across the world. In the mid-70s they joined rock giants The Who on their North American tour. Based on this backstage photo of Pete Townshend and Toots Hibbert, it looks like the two bands – both at the zeniths of their careers – were having the time of their lives.

Snoop Dogg and 2Pac Shakur

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Photo: Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage

Along with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac were “two of the best from the Westside” and ran the rap game in the 90s. Snoop says Pac taught him “a different kind of work ethic,” but also passed him his first joint, igniting two opposing forces that would shape the course of Snoop’s career.

Cher, Elton John, and Diana Ross

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Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Image

While Cher, Elton John, and Diana Ross never did form a Divas Live-style supergroup, this glorious 1975 photo captures the giddy trio at the inaugural (and short-lived) Rock Music Awards ceremony. Elton and Diana co-hosted the raucous awards ceremony, while Cher presented Elton with the Outstanding Rock Personality of the Year award. If anything, this photo proves just how fun – and outrageous – the 70s really were.

Clarence Clemons and George Clinton

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Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Though E-Street Band sax man Clarence Clemons was never part of the P-Funk universe, you can tell the two were kindred spirits. They also had several bandmates in common: one of Clemons’ earliest gigs was with a New Jersey group Tyrone Ashley’s Funky Music Machine – which featured three of P-Funk’s future founding members.

Herb Alpert and Louis Armstrong

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Photo: David Redfern/Redferns

Both legends in their own right, Herb Alpert and Louis Armstrong performed together countless times over the years. “It was easy to love Satchmo,” said Alpert. “You didn’t have to know a thing about music, all you had to do was be alive.”

Slash and Rod Stewart

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Photo: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

Rod is God and Slash is Slash. When you can go by a single moniker, that’s how you know you’re in good company.

Paul Young, Iggy Pop, Rick James, and David Bowie

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Photo: Larry Busacca/WireImage

David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s relationship is one of the most fruitful and famous musical friendships in history, gifting us The Idiot and Lust for Life and later Bowie’s Tonight and Never Let Me Down, but just imagine the possibilities if they got Rick James on board for a seriously funky-punk mashup?

Looking for more? Discover the Best Vocal Duos Of All Time: The 11 Greatest Musical Pairings.

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